Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Eugene Sartory:
Violin Bows of Sartorial Splendor

Mirecourt, France has been the birthplace and springboard of most of France's great violin makers and bow makers. The typical route to glory starts with birth and childhood in Mirecourt (often with a father or elder brother already working in the field), an apprenticeship that begins at a young age, and then a quantum leap to Paris, where the artiste either grabs the gold ring or slinks back to Mirecourt, to hang his head in shame.

Eugene Nicolas Sartory was no exception to this plan. Born in Mirecourt in 1871, he apprenticed with his father, a bow maker, for a short while, before heading off to Paris. He grabbed that gold ring and held on tight!

E.SARTORY A PARIS violin bow

In Paris, Eugene first worked with Charles Pecatte and then with Alfred Lamy. He must have been a perceptive student. The established bow makers loved his work! He was well known for having an excellent eye, a sure cutting hand, and on top of all that, being fast. Fast isn't always good, but when you're bow making for someone else on an hourly wage, the employer can appreciate a quick turnaround.

Sartory was also talented. Talented in several ways. He had an eye for excellent quality Pernambuco, an innate understanding of what makes a bow play well, and an artistic sense to make it all flow together beautifully.

By the tender age of 18, in 1889, Eugene Sartory established his own bow workshop in Paris. There were certainly economic struggles at first. Many of his first bows with his own stamp are made with nickel-silver mountings. It seems that silver was either out of his economic reach or his clientele was not ready to pay the extra price. As his bows gained a reputation for superb quality, he was soon able to mount them with silver.

By 1900, Eugene was producing gold mounted bows for an elite clientele. He moved his workshop closer to the famous Paris Conservatoire. A move that allowed a greater number of musicians to find him. Eventually, Sartory hired German bow makers Prell, Hoyer, and others to help in his production.

Between 1887 and 1908, Sartory brought his bows to many exhibitions, including Brussels, Lyons, Liege, Milan and London. He won numerous awards, medals, diplomas, and accolades. To show off his skill and artistic talent, he made several bows with mother-of-pearl frogs. Beautiful, but extraordinarily fragile!

In their book, "L'Archet" Bernard Millant and Jean Francois Raffin relate that in August of 1914, Sartory was called up to fight in the French Army in World War I. Before leaving for the army, Sartory made four exquisite tortoise-shell and gold mounted violin bows. Three of the bows were dedicated to his wife and daughters, the fourth was held in reserve. The fourth bow was exhibited much later, at the New York Exhibition of 1939.

Luckily, Eugene came back from the war unscathed. He soon called up other Mirecourt bow makers to help him, including Louis Morizot, Jules Fetique, Louis Gillet and others. There were two active E.SARTORY bow workshops, one in Paris and one in a country house in the far suburbs of Paris. All the work was inspected, re-worked if necessary, and finely finished by Eugene Sartory. Yet again, we encounter a debunking of the myth of the lonely bow maker or violin maker toiling away by themselves in a dark hovel producing works that only their hands have touched.

I particularly like the heads of Sartory's bows. The curves are graceful and strong. The angled cuts (chamfers) are well executed, neither too big or too dainty. It's not surprising that more of Sartory's bows survive than most other bow makers. He had a large output, but he also selected wonderfully strong Pernambuco.

The head of an E.SARTORY A PARIS violin bow

Besides the Millant & Raffin book mentioned above, Henley's Universal dictionary of Violin and Bow Makers is an excellent source of further information. You can see Prell's and Hoyer's work in a book by Klaus Grunke, et.al., "German Bow Makers". Both the Millant/Raffin book and the Grnke book have very excellent pictures and very detailed information.

Not all Sartory bows are branded E.SARTORY A PARIS.  Millant and Raffin state that Sartory made bows or fittings for Audinot, Blanchard, Chanot & Chardon, Darche, Gartner, Germain, Hel ( Oh, hell!), Silvestre & Macoutel, and others. That's a busy bow workshop!

The Sartory violin bow pictured above is a bow currently in our collection. This E. SARTORY A PARIS violin bow was played by the renowned violinist, Juan Cuneo. Many, many great string players have a Sartory bow in their arsenal. The others? They wish they did.

You can see our own fine Pernambuco, Hybrid, and Carbon Bows on our website!


  1. Juan Cuneo was my grandfather. I didn't really know him well because he died at a fairly young age (in his 50's) and lived in another state. I rode in his convertible once, though, and was enthralled by the power windows. :)

  2. Emilia Casas (Cuneo)4/23/2013 7:22 PM

    Hi Andy,
    Juan Cuneo was my father. The older I get, the more I search for any recordings of him or glimpses into his life since I was fairly young when he died. It is a gift to 'see' him again through the eyes of others.